Group from William Woods Provides Service on Indian Reservation
|6/8/2011||Mary Ann Beahon|
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||(573) 592-1127|
A group of students and staff from William Woods University traveled to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota last month for a week of service-learning among the Oglala Lakota Sioux.
“When you consider all the factors that go into the quality of life index, the challenges on Pine Ridge Reservation are considerable,” the Rev. Travis Tamerius, university chaplain and director of the Center for Ethics and Global Studies, said.
“Pine Ridge has been described as a third-world country inside a first-world nation. The agency includes the poorest counties in the United States with an unemployment rate at a staggering 80–90 percent. It has one of the lowest life expectancies in the Western Hemisphere and the teenage suicide rate is four or five times the national average.”
The trip was part of Woods Around the World, a WWU program directed by Tamerius that is multi-cultural, interdisciplinary, collaborative and service-based.
The group included current students Sydnee Kuster (Bunceton, Mo.), Madeline Ortego (Fayetteville, Ark.), Courtney Shotwell (Chesterfield, Mo.) and recent graduate Tiffany Bounds (Kingdom City, Mo.).
They were joined by Tammy Carter, director of multicultural affairs; Rebecca Seitz, campus counselor, and Travis Tamerius, university chaplain and director of the Center for Ethics and Global Studies. Cyndi Koonse, former director of multicultural affairs at WWU, also accompanied the group on the trip and shared her knowledge of Native American ways.
While there, the group participated in a cultural immersion program at Re-member, a nonprofit organization on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Re-member exists to “improve the quality of reservation life through relationships, shared resources and volunteer services.”
“Re-member is doing some fantastic work on the reservation,” Tamerius said. “Their mission statement describes their purpose as ‘an organization that exists to recall our country’s treatment of the Native people of the Americas and to repair the broken pieces of that relationship.’ Similarly, Woods Around the World is focused on student trips that help us to appreciate differences between cultures and identify ways that we can bring those gaps through friendship and mutual respect.”
Each day the team learned about the Lakota people from various guest speakers. The Native speakers told stories about the history of their people, their cultural values, the current challenges for those living on the reservation and their hopes for the future.
"As an aspiring social worker, the trip to the reservation allowed me to redefine my focus on what I plan to do once I graduate,” Ortego, a senior, said. “To see firsthand how the third-world status poverty has plagued the area of Pine Ridge and its residents was an eye-opening and humbling experience. I plan to pursue an internship at Re-Member next summer to acquire more experience and knowledge about the reservation that I will surely pass along to others."
The team also spent time each day doing various work projects—building bunk beds, skirting a trailer and constructing outhouses.
“Each day brought a certain amount of satisfaction as we knew the bunk beds were getting children off the floor and giving them a more comfortable place to sleep,” Tamerius said. “I was very proud of our work team. Each person took turns with the power tools, cutting boards and hanging plywood. Others installed insulation under the trailer, in very windy conditions.”
Shotwell, a junior psychology major, commented, “This trip changed my life and made me realize what’s really important. I plan on returning at much as possible and as soon as possible. My heart remains on the reservation and I know now what I am supposed to do in life.”
Tamerius shares Shotwell’s perspective.
“On each of these trips, we have a great deal of fun traveling together, but we also learn a lot,” he said. “And we put ourselves in a position to have our own lives changed, and hopefully, to change the life of someone else.”
A group from William Woods University (left to right) Rebecca Seitz, Sydnee Kuster, Tiffany Bounds, Cyndi Koonse, Courtney Shotwell, Travis Tamerius, Madeline Ortego and Tammy Carter visit the Badlands of South Dakota.
Courtney Shotwell (left) drills into a new bunk bed while other volunteers assist.
Left to right, Madeline Ortego, Sydnee Kuster and Courtney Shotwell work on another project. They built a deck in the morning and built outhouses in the afternoon.